I’ve been going out with my Chinese girlfriend for the last five years, on and off, mostly on though. Yes, that’s a bit of time, but since the last couple years her mother, whom I have met for a two week stay in China before, has been insisting that we get married. I know part of it is that her mother is traditional, my girlfriend is their only child, I’m her first boyfriend (big one), and now she only has a few months left still to find a job here in the US, or she has to go back to China. As for me, I’m still looking for a job and housing, and I feel like I’m only 26 years old and not ready yet, especially under these circumstances.
I know she and her mom love me to death, but I know there is an undercurrent of me having to “help” or “do her a favor” so she doesn’t have to go back. Honestly, I’ll say, as an American I do feel like her mom is kind of using me, and furthermore my girlfriend has also put this in terms of “doing a favor for each other”, or “an “engagement”, meaning the marriage certificate. Then the plan would be whenever we get things set up we would go over to China to have a big wedding. Now this does sound really great but I am confused and I do feel like I’m kind of being pressured into this. I don’t want to have my girlfriend go back to China, but at the same time I hate to be the one who “holds the key” to us staying together, and to her future.
Alex, consider your situation Chinese dating etiquette 101 in the school of hard knocks that we’d all rather avoid. Because if you knew better, you would have realized a long time ago that you gave your girlfriend some marriage signals.
You’ve been dating her for five years. Yes, you qualify it as “on and off, mostly on” but I wonder if she would even pick up on that distinction. After all, most Chinese don’t date casually, but only stick around in a relationship if they think that person could make the cut as “husband” or “wife.” People don’t usually invest five years of their lives in a relationship and suddenly abandon it — unless they’re really Westernized or sexually open.
And speaking of sex, if you slept with her (I can’t imagine any American guy making it through five years with a girl and not getting some), you might have also sent her another “we’re really serious” message — particularly if you took her virginity. Again, many Chinese, especially girls, consider sex as a sort of physical acknowledgement that you could marry someday.
On top of it, she introduced you to her mother. Most Chinese won’t bring their boyfriend or girlfriend home unless they see the potential for wedding bells in the future.
All roads seem to point to marriage, even if that’s not where you intended to go.
The practical side of this arrangement — that it solves a problem for the girl, that it helps her — doesn’t strike me as odd either. I could see manipulation if you two had just met and all of a sudden she suggests walking down the aisle. But the thing is, you clearly like this girl, she likes you, and you’ve been together for years. Besides, marriage is often a very practical thing in China. Most girls, as Rob Gifford once titled his story, are “Looking for Mr. Right (Enough)” and not necessarily their perfect soulmate:
Xie says she’s holding out for Mr. Right, but she knows the clock is ticking.
“If by that time, I want to marry [a] guy, and I [don't] love him that much — just because he checked all the [right] boxes, I think I will still marry him, but it’s going to be a very hard decision,” she says.
When asked if she is, in the end, a realist, she replies, with a heavy sigh: “Yeah, sadly, yes.”
Chinese girls are under a lot of societal and family pressure to marry before 30 (and even earlier, depending on where they are from), and in the end, they might settle for an average, normal guy who meets their needs (usually, the guy with the car, home and good salary). Of course, you don’t have the home yet, but you do have US citizenship, which to many Chinese equals the good salary, or at least the potential for it.
You say you don’t want her to go, but you can’t have it both ways. Chances are, no marriage equals a one-way ticket back to China for her, unless she’s really lucky and lands a job. Plus, I can’t imagine this girl understanding or even forgiving you after you say, “I like you, but I don’t want to marry you.”
If you can’t stomach a wedding, do this girl a favor and tell her as soon as you can. Yes, it’ll probably blow up in your face like the Chinese wedding firecrackers you’ll never hear in your future. But maybe you’ll walk away a little wiser — that some countries and cultures do relationships differently, and you’re better off knowing that before you get in bed with someone.
What do you think? What advice do you have for Alex?
P.S.: For further reading on this topic, check out Middle Kingdom Life’s Dating Chinese Girls: Dating Etiquette, Relationships, and Sex.
Do you have a question about life, dating, marriage and family in China/Chinese culture (or Western culture)? Send me yours today.